ICANN: The internet admins come to Dublin
The non-profit group with oversight for the internet is trying to become more globalised
Internet governance is broadening out
ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is coming to Dublin.
The occasion – a first for Ireland – is the 54th public meeting, and 17th annual general meeting, to be held by the Los Angeles-based non-profit organisation which has had technical and functional oversight of the internet since it was handed over from direct control as a US government project in 1998.
“We have three meetings a year, and the objective is to agree common procedures” for the management of the internet, says Jean-Jacques Sahel, vice-president, ICANN Europe, who says that ICANN would like to bring more Irish stakeholders into the process.
On the agenda are a range of critical topics that should make this meeting a particularly important one, Sahel says.
The Dublin meeting, which will be held October 18th-22nd in the Convention Centre, is expected to produce an agreed proposal on one of the most hotly disputed topics in the organisation’s history: how the governance and control of a key element of ICANN will be formally broadened to become a more global organisation.
Broader global controlUnder an agreement with the US government, the US-controlled Internet Assigned Numbers Authority – IANA , which manages Internet names and addresses – will pass from ICANN to broader global control. The handover agreement and processes will feature on the Dublin meeting’s agenda.
“It’s being watched very carefully around the world. The proposal for structural changes should be approved by the time we get to Dublin,” says Sahel. “The proposals should then be firmed up and formally adopted in Dublin. So Dublin is really important, as we’ll have a proposal on the table.”
Other key issues include the ongoing introduction and management of many new top level domains (TLDs) – further expanding the roster well beyond the original handful that included the familiar .com. .net, .org and country-level domains like .ie.
Another particularly pressing issue is whether, as ICANN has proposed, the personal contact details of individuals should be publicly available via the public WHOIS search facility when they register a commercial domain. This has potentially profound privacy implications, especially for human rights campaigners.
Strong feelings over the WHOIS privacy question helped to drive the largest ever attendance at an ICANN public meeting, at a recent public meeting held in London where more than 3,000 people participated.
Unsurprisingly, given its global role and the depth and breadth of opinion on how the net should be best structured and managed, ICANN has often been at the centre of controversy and campaigning.
Incorporated as a non-profit in California, ICANN, which still has some US government oversight, has had an often adversarial history closely connected with the development of the internet, US national and international politics, the particular mindset of the technologists and tech communities involved in its early expansion, and some influential personalities since.
Increasingly, other countries have argued for greater input into ICANN. Although it has international participation, there’s now a campaign called NetMundial, launched last year in Brazil, to devolve more aspects of internet oversight to the global community.
StipulationOne unusual original stipulation from the US government at its formation was that ICANN should have a bottom up, democratic structure to allow for public involvement in decision making. While the structural format for how this should best be done is still disputed, this important governing body has public meetings – such as the upcoming one in Dublin – which are truly open to anybody.
The meetings rotate between continents, to encourage international participation. Anyone can attend, join working groups, and have their voice heard. For the Dublin meeting, people can register in advance, or simply show up on the door on the days they wish to attend. Sahel feels Ireland should be particularly engaged in ICANN’s processes.
“Ireland has become a major centre for technology and the internet, with both the large US giants involved there, but also a local start-up scene. Ireland needs to be involved in this large, global discussion on privacy, security, internet policy and governance. Ireland is a significant player.”
For those interested in attending the October public meeting, ICANN, and Irish host the Internet Neutral Exchange Association (INEX), will hold an introductory information and networking event in Dublin on September 17th. The evening event is aimed at individuals, businesses and organisations with an interest in the internet and its management and governance, and will provide information about the October public meeting and how to get involved.
Those who wish to register for the September evening, or who want further details, can email emea.communications @icann.org.
Up for discussion: Dublin meeting will tackle keys issues The issues that are expected to dominate ICANN’s 54th public meeting in Dublin include:
The handover of IANA stewardship On the agenda for years now, the control of IANA is scheduled to pass from ICANN to a new, international body next year. The function of IANA – overseeing the way names and addresses on the internet are managed – is at the very heart of how the internet functions. If the proposal for how this will be done is formally adopted in Dublin, as expected, it will be sent for review to the US government, and formalised early in the new year. The transition should happen toward the end of 2016. For more detail about this complex topic, see icann.org/stewardship
WHOIS privacy versus domain owner accountability In the past, people or organisations who buy domain names have been required to give ICANN contact details, but have been able to keep their personal details hidden from public scrutiny by using privacy services offered by many domain registrars and other third parties.
There’s growing concern that too many domains used for suspicious purposes are held secretly, making it hard to pursue criminals, fraudsters, terrorists and others. ICANN would like some registrations to be publicly available.
However, individuals argue that this may violate privacy rights in Europe, and also place human rights activists in danger.
Top level domains Once there were only a small number of so-called top level domains available - domains that ended in .com being the most prominent. A few years ago, ICANN began to open up the range of TLDs, initially to include now well recognised TLDs such as .eu, but also more controversial ones such as .xxx, for adult sites. The approval and ongoing management, including ownership disputes, of TLDs remains a perennial topic of public meetings.
NetMundial and global management of the internet Control of the internet is a highly fractious issue. On the one hand, the NetMundial initiative, supported by many global government and non-governmental organisations, aims to make management of the internet a more international, less US-dominated affair. On the other, some nations, including Russia and China, have proposed setting up “balkanised”, walled, domestic internets, fenced off from the global net. These geopolitics issues will be on the table in Dublin.
Privacy and security on the internet These two topics are now headlining issues internationally, affecting individuals, businesses, NGOs and governments. For ICANN, security and privacy interweave through every aspect of internet governance and functionality, from how the internet is structured, to how it is accessed, administered and used.